Posted: Friday, May 30th 2014 at 11:09pm
D.A. will review flash bang incident that burned child
By Rob Moore Editor
District Attorney Brian Rickman says his office will review Wednesday morning's drug raid near Cornelia in which a flash bang grenade burned a 19-month-old child. (Photo/Rob Moore)
CLARKESVILLE - Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brian Rickman says his office will review the early-morning drug raid near Cornelia Wednesday that resulted in burns to a 19-month-old child.
Members of the Habersham Special Response Team, comprised of Habersham County sheriff's deputies and Cornelia police officers, executed a "no knock" search warrant at a home located at 182 Lakeview Heights Circle outside Cornelia.
During the team's forced entry, a flash bang grenade, also called a stun grenade, was used as a diversionary device. That device burned 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh.
"It landed in the playpen with the child, right in close proximity to it," Terrell said. "I don't know how close, because the flash bang, when it went off, it went out of the playpen. When it landed in it, the pillow that the child was laying on or laying next to, it burnt it, and there was a hole burnt in the side of the playpen netting because it's a plastic type material. It went through it."
The search warrant was obtained by a special agent of the Mountains Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team after a confidential informant purchased drugs at the home, Terrell said.
While NCIS took the warrant, because it was a high-risk warrant it was served by the SRT, Rickman said.
Terrell explained more about the flash bang grenade.
"The flash bang is not an incendiary device, but it does get hot, because it is like a gunpowder so it does make that loud explosion," Terrell said. "That's why you toss it just inside the door. You don't want to toss it six feet inside the door and it land on a couch because, yes, it will catch on fire."
Terrell said SRT's planning for the raid was based on information provided by the confidential informant, including a sketch of the home's floorplan and a query about whether there were children or pets, or any sign of either.
SRT members chose to enter through the same door where the informant had entered to purchase drugs a few hours earlier.
"We weren't expecting to have a playpen pushed up against the door that we'd just bought dope out of several hours ago," Terrell said. "There is a lapse of time because you have to get the search warrant. There's steps we have to do. You have to fill out an affidavit, you have to go see the magistrate judge, you have to swear - you have to do the constitutional stuff that we have to do to get a search warrant. It takes time."
The SRT was activated at 11:03 p.m. Tuesday, with units going on scene at the house at 2:17 a.m. Within seconds, SRT Commander Sgt. Matt Wurtz called for the ambulance, a log sheet from the Habersham County E-9-1-1 Center shows. That ambulance and first responders were dispatched at 2:17.
At 2:25 a.m., the EMS supervisor advised "need a helicopter and need it now," the dispatch log shows.
At 2:50 a.m., Wurtz advised the house was clear and four people were in custody.
Because of weather, the medical helicopter was grounded, so the child was ground transported to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, the log shows.
All those documents, along with audio and other materials, will be included in the review by the D.A.'s office.
But Rickman stressed his office will not be the one to determine whether policy was followed, or to question the manner in which the raid was conducted.
"It's a lot different than what some people think," Rickman said. "Our sole function in a situation like that is to determine if there's any evidence of criminal wrongdoing."
Rickman said the review by the D.A.'s office is specifically to determine whether a crime was committed.
"What could warrant any criminal wrongdoing would be if this was intentional," Rickman said. "The only way it would be criminal is if there was some kind of gross, absolute disregard for safety, or clearly if an officer intended it."
Rickman said so far he has not received any information that leads him to believe there was gross disregard for safety.
"I haven't heard anything yet that would indicate that," Rickman said. "Again, that's all preliminary. There's no substitute for a thorough review of the documents and requesting of interviews or asking another agency to get involved. That's kind of where we stand right now."
It's possible the GBI could be asked to review the incident, though that is not certain yet.
"If we saw anything that we thought warranted that, we have the ability to ask the GBI to review it," Rickman said. "I also have investigators on my staff that are sworn, that are retired GBI agents. If we saw anything - any evidence - that pointed in that direction, there's no question we would follow that and pursue it and look at it. Again, the indications we're getting right now is you have just a horrible tragedy, but again that's preliminary. We are certainly going to thoroughly review it, there's no question about that."
Rickman said the review likely will begin this weekend, with him looking over items. It will continue next week, with D.A.'s office staff determining if there are follow-up interviews they want done related to the incident.
"To be cautious, I would say maybe 30 days to get that much done and to see if there's other work that we need done," Rickman said of a timetable for completion of the review. "Again, I'm being very cautious because as these things go, it could happen quicker or we could see some things that we want looked at that could take longer than that, but I think 30 days is probably a safe timeframe."
The child's mother told Atlanta TV reporters the child is in an induced coma and breathing with the help of a trach.
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